Quite a few projects developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) come close to blurring the ever-receding line between science and science fiction – spying robot hummingbirds, lava-firing missiles, and mind-controlling helmets are just a few of the many experiments that the agency is currently tinkering with. But even innovative geniuses sometimes run out of ideas and need a bit of inspiration from the huddled masses.
Earlier this month, DARPA tweeted a deceptively simple question to its 2,500 followers: “What technology from science fiction would you most like to see as science fact?” And, as The Atlantic’s Rebecca J. Rosen pointed out, “the people have heeded the call, some in earnest, others … not so much.”
A few common themes emerged in the crowd-sourced poll: time travel, teleportation, and access to space travel popped up often, perhaps not surprisingly. But not all of the responses were as predictable. Some of the highlights:
- “The Death Star, pls.” (@silvermanjacob)
- “Black goo that tears apart your DNA.” (@andylevy)
- “Hologram trees from The Simpsons.” (@FutureTenseNow)
- “Suspended animation. For cross-country flights.” (@WhySharksMatter)
- And last, but most certainly not least: “Very tiny Rick Moranis.” (@jwhermann)
I put the question to the WaPo Labs team to see what they believe would be the best science-fiction-turned-science-fact – and, in the process, realized how archaic my 1950’s science fiction points of reference were. Nearly all the responses I received alluded to TV shows or movies from the past several decades.
Greg Lavallee said “I’d go with the ability to learn something just by importing it into your brain,” and referenced the scene from “The Matrix” in which Keanu Reeves acquires a working knowledge of kung-fu via mental download. “Of course,” Greg added, “I’d use it for things other than kung-fu.” Or so he says.
Several people looked to the decade of Aqua Net and the Brat Pack for inspiration: Chris Droukas suggested “Hoverboards, from ‘Back to the Future,’” David Price voted for “Star Trek”-era transporters, and, in a particularly inspired reference, T.J. DeGroat said, “Evie. Out of This World. BOOM,” adding, “I have had countless fantasies about being able to stop time for a hot minute (often while taking exams).” He was kind enough to include a link for reference, for those of us unfortunate enough to have missed out on the trials and tribulations of the half-alien teen.
Finally, two team members referenced the same TV show, albeit for different reasons: Chris Hayden said he would most like to see the “tube transport system” from “Futurama” made into reality, while Rob Malda chose “’Futurama’-style heads in jars,” explaining, “immortality perched atop robot bodies seems pretty awesome to me.”
It seems as if science fiction tech has come a long way since the days of Aldous Huxley and Ray Bradbury – perhaps its time I took a trip to the video store scanned Netflix for some late-twentieth-century inspiration.
And maybe, just maybe, DARPA will make your wish come true.